This article was originally published in the May/June 1993 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.



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Home Energy Magazine Online May/June 1993




Trends in Energy is a bulletin of residential energy conservation issues. It covers items ranging from the latest policy issues to the newest energy technologies. If you have items that would be of interest, please send them to: Trends Department, Home Energy, 2124 Kittredge St., No. 95, Berkeley, CA 94704.


A Cheaper Solar Water Heater

With an average initial price tag of $2,500, solar water heaters--which are usually designed for households of four or more--have long been expensive. As a solution, a company in Florida has come up with a model appropriately sized to be more cost-effective. Available for under $700 in home improvement centers, it can be installed by the do-it-yourselfer and offers a payback of 2-6 years.

Pacemaker II is a new version of a popular design that incorporates a traditional 4 2 10 ft solar panel in conjunction with an 80 gal solar tank. The new unit, by contrast, sports a 2 2 10 ft panel that attaches to an existing 40 gal tank. Installation is made easy with a triple fitting that replaces the tank drain (see Figure 1). In the combined fitting is a drain, suction pump, and return pipe from the collector connection. A prefabricated parts package includes compression fittings which negate the need for soldering. We essentially cut (the old tank size) in half to adapt to a smaller version and incorporated innovations such as the triple fitting and compression fittings, and the easier-to-handle solar collector, said the product's inventor, Donald Kazimir.

The economics of the unit are well-suited to today's market, said Danny Parker, a senior research scientist with the Florida Solar Energy Center. First, it's inexpensive, compared to larger systems. Second, the smaller version fits in with the new average size of household. It used to be four per household and now is slightly over two per household, Parker said. The unit, he added, is aimed at that size of household.

The system got its start from a solar design competition sponsored by Florida's Gov. Lawton Chiles. Of 66 entrants, it emerged the winner. The Pacemaker heats 40 gal per day, enough for an average 2-3 person household. For larger families, electric backup is used. This amounts to a $700 investment with an annual $165 return, or in more, lucrative terms, a 24% return on the investment, far better than a certificate of deposit today, said Kazimir, who is also president of Solar Development Inc. of Riviera Beach, Florida.

Distribution efforts are underway. Because the company has been operating for 19 years, its dealer base is in place and in a position to add the unit to its inventory. A key distribution channel will be home improvement stores, said Kazimir. Already a test-pilot program has been initiated with The Home Depot. Five of the chain's southern Florida stores are carrying it, priced to sell at $695 plus tax.

Kazimir and his colleagues are conducting in-store seminars to familiarize homeowners with the system. The company is also targeting the Caribbean and South American countries where electric rates of 25-40cents per kWh prevail. Kazimir can ship the units assembled or disassembled. Packing the panels into a small container reduces shipping costs. Because the units are assembled where they are installed, the import duty, often reaching 100%, is avoided. The first export shipment went to Sri Lanka.

Generally we recommend that the system be used in fairly warm climates that don't have many freezing nights, said Jim Huggins, a researcher with the Florida Solar Energy Center. You don't want to put it in Minnesota.

A thermally operated freeze valve and manual draindown usually provides freeze protection. With its open loop system, water gets in the collector, and a valve opens to release the water in freezing temperatures. If the system were used in colder climates, the owner would waste a considerable amount of water, said Huggins. Other, closed systems utilize antifreeze or drainback, making them more appropriate in colder weather. The Pacemaker was tested by the Florida Solar Energy Center. The collector is rated at 20,600 Btu per day in the Florida climate.

  • -- Patricia A. Kelsey

Patricia Kelsey is a business writer based in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Figure 1. Schematic of the Pacemaker II

by Solar Development Inc.


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